Travelers visit the homes and studios of famous artists to appreciate the environments that shaped their lives and works. In Europe, they tour houses such as Monet’s famous gardens at Giverny, Mozart’s birthplace in Salzburg, the Rembrandt House and Museum in Amsterdam in large numbers.
In America, visitors can explore the life and times of three distinguished artists in great houses: French Impressionist master Degas, America’s best-loved author Mark Twain, and the influential author awarded a Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize, Ernest Hemingway.
Degas House in New Orleans
You may have admired bronze statues of dancers in mid-pose wearing tulle ballet skirts and silk hair ribbons as found in top museums all over the world.
Did you know that 19th century French Impressionist master sculptor and painter, Edgar Degas, called New Orleans his maternal home? Born in Paris in 1834 to a native New Orleans Creole mother (and grandmother), Degas visited his uncle at Esplanade Avenue during an four-month stay.
This is the only house or studio associated with Degas, where he produced 18 paintings, 4 drawings and letters before returning to Paris in 1873. The great grand-nieces of the artist guide visitors through both the house and tree-lined neighborhood streets, providing stories of the French Creole life in these post-Civil War days.
Visitors can start their day with a home cooked-to-order Creole breakfast in a show of fine New Orleans-style hospitality. Even better, don’t leave so soon. The Degas House operates as a charming bed and breakfast inn, so you’re welcome to sleep in a four poster bed, see the artist’s studio and experience this corner of New Orleans through Degas’ own eyes. It’s one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
Before you leave, find out why Degas said,”What a horrible thing yellow is.”
Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford
Witty and humorous, Mark Twain was a great observer of life. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness,” he said. So, let’s go to Hartford, Connecticut.
It was while living in this sprawling 25-room mansion in Hartford, Connecticut, that the famous writer penned “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” along with more of his best-known books.
From 1874 to 1891, this Gothic gingerbread place was Mark Twain’s beloved family home, even though his biographer later described it as, “part steamboat, part medieval stronghold, and part cuckoo clock.”
Fans of interior design will appreciate interiors by Associated Artists, the firm owned by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Fans of Mark Twain’s humor and social commentary will appreciate seeing the billiards room where he sat before the fireplace pen in hand.
The authentic, elaborately restored and lavishly decorated Mark Twain House and Museum in the Connecticut state capital has been named as one of the “Ten Best Historic Homes” in the world by National Geographic.
Want even more? The Harriet Beech Stowe House (“Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, 1852) is right next door. Tours of both houses and museums are conducted daily, as well as occasional mystery murder events, ghost tours and talks by famous visiting authors.
Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West
This National Historic Landmark at the southernmost tip of the United States has 40 polydactyl cats in the garden and chartreuse-colored shutters on the windows. Connecting the dots for our roundup, we note that the prolific American writer who lived here once said, ” All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”
Ernest Hemingway lived and played in the island city of Old Town Key West for 10 years in the 1930s. It was a productive decade for the writer. His only book set in the USA takes place here, “To Have and Have Not.” The Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winner wrote “A Farewell to Arms” when he moved in and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” upon moving out.
Meanwhile, the accident-prone Hemingway segued from his second to third of four wives. He was a hard-drinking, woman-chasing fighter and sportsman of legend with a circle of Key West boating and fishing pals known locally as “the mob.”
Take an epic, but manageable, road trip in the great American tradition under the Florida sun. Follow US Route 1 south of Miami for 130 miles to visit the center of Hemingway’s Key West world, open 365 days a year. Soak up the atmosphere of the Keys while you watch the clock turn back through decades of Americana.